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Writing an End to the Bio of BIOS? 511

An anonymous reader writes "Intel and Microsoft are gearing up to move toward the first major overhaul of the innermost workings of the personal computer. The companies will begin promoting a technology specification called EFI (Extensible Firmware Interface) as a new system for starting up a PC's hardware before its operating system begins loading."
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Writing an End to the Bio of BIOS?

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  • Re:OF? (Score:5, Informative)

    by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) <> on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @11:03AM (#7834935) Homepage Journal
    because we're not all using mac's. hello. welcome to the real world.

    Exactly. Because most of us are using UltraSparcs and other Unix machines that use OpenFirmware. Hello! McFly?!

  • by morcheeba ( 260908 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @11:07AM (#7834964) Journal
    The download page [] requires a fake name and email, but you can skip that and get the latest version (1.10-001) here []. (Total karma whore link: EFI homepage [])

    The license isn't actually too bad - it just says that if you provide them feedback, then you also grant them the right to implement your idea.
  • by nutznboltz ( 473437 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @11:09AM (#7834990) Homepage Journal
    Seems it's what's happening now. []
  • Re:OF? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @11:15AM (#7835027)
    Duh, the Mac's pre-boot system is Open Firmware!
  • by ultrapenguin ( 2643 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @11:16AM (#7835032)
    Most server machines support BIOS over serial port. And not your most expensive ones, either.
    I have some low-end NEC servers, and the BIOS (by default) comes configured to check for a console on serial port, and appear there, instead of the primary monitor.

    And this has been around for quite a while.
  • Re:OF? (Score:4, Informative)

    by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) <> on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @11:16AM (#7835033) Homepage Journal
    What's to stop SCO from butting their ass in and requiring a change in the spec that only allows approved operating systems to run in OF?

    What's to stop all the actual OF members from either voting SCO down or ignoring their spec changes? Like it or not, SCO/Caldera *used* to be a reasonable company in the computing world. It should then come as no surprise that their on many technology standard boards. But when you consider the fact that they are probably the only OpenFirmware member that doesn't have an implementation (Their market is Intel after all), their ideas probably won't carry much weight.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @11:22AM (#7835079)
    No, it wouldn't lock you into a particular OS.

    This is _exactly_ what Linux needs. There would be an open standard for device drivers - any OS which supported the standard could use the firmware drivers instead of having to load its own. And this is exactly what the OS community needs. One of the major barriers to adoption of Linux is the fact that it doesn't have drivers for all of the hardware out there. If the drivers were loaded into the firmware, Linux could run on any PC, regardless of the hardware installed.

    Sure, they could use DRM and kernel signing to prevent Linux from loading. But this capability has already existed for a long time now. IIRC, some of Compaq's old servers (about 8 years ago) came with an OS checksum in the BIOS - if it wasn't Compaq's version of NT, the BIOS wouldn't load it. Compaq has stopped this practice, as many of their customers got sick of being unable to migrate their servers to Win2k.

    But I doubt it's as bad as it seems. Yes, they're going to _try_ to get DRM to take off. But nobody's going to buy it. To understand why, consider why the PC became so popular in the first place:

    Open Standards.

    Back in the 80's, Apple was a serious contender for the desktop. IBM released the PC specification for their BIOS; Apple did not. We all know how that went over. So either there will be an open standard for the new BIOS, or only the fringe players are going to adopt it.

    Oh, and BTW, this is somewhat of a moot point. Almost all of the major manufacturers - Dell, HP, Compaq, Toshiba, etc... write their own BIOS. So even if this does become standardized with DRM, it still might not matter if none of the major manufacturers use it.

    Even if it fails as a standard, the major PC makers may still implement DRM in the BIOS... silently. I've just bought a Toshiba laptop which can't take screenshots - I didn't know about it until after I bought it. DRM strikes again!
  • by inditek ( 150002 ) <> on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @11:26AM (#7835099) Homepage
    This sounds like what Apple/IBM/Motorola/Sun started doing a long time ago with Open Firmware:
    http://playground. s/tn/tn1061.htm l
  • by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) <> on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @11:38AM (#7835179) Homepage Journal

    Wasn't Postscript good enough for them?

    Do you have any idea WTF you're talking about? Postscript is a document display language. Forth is a general purpose, turing complete, mathematics language. Quite a difference there.

    Besides, it's not like you actually have to be able to code Forth to use OpenFirmware. It's just a feature.

    No wonder it's not hit mainstream.

    That is, if you don't consider Apple, Sun, IBM, HP OR JUST ABOUT EVERY FREAKING COMPUTER MAKER OTHER THAN INTEL mainstream.

  • Re:OF? (Score:2, Informative)

    by colinleroy ( 592025 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @11:44AM (#7835229) Homepage
    Same for Sun and other archs. That's a standard [].
  • Those viruses (Win32.CIH, for one) DID attack Flash BIOSes. They rendered the system unbootable (unless there was an emergency backup on the mobo), so that the chip had to be thrown in a running box and flashed.
  • EFI IS CRAP!!! (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @11:52AM (#7835302)
    EFI would be a total nightmare.

    Vendor-supplied drivers without source are going to be BUGGY.

    They are going to be doubly buggy if they are run with a compiler that has a buggy back-end.

    And that back-end is going to be buggy if it's for some random bytecode that isn't widely used except for some silly EFI thing and is tested exclusively with just a few versions of Windows and _maybe_ occasionally on Linux.

    Face it: firmware bytecode is a total braindamage. The only thing that works is _source_code_ that can be fixed, and lacking that, we're better off with a well-defined ISA that people are used to and that has stable simple compilers.

    In other words: x86 object code is a better choice than some random new bytecode. It's a "bytecode" too, after all. And it's one that is stable and runs fast on most hardware. But as long as it's some kind of binary (and byte code is binary, don't make any mistake about it), it's going to always be broken.

    EFI is doing all the wrong things. Trying to fix BIOSes by being "more generic". It's going to be a total nightmare if you go down that path.

    What will work is:

    standard hardware interfaces. Instead of working on bytecode interpreters, make the f*cking hardware definition instead, and make it SANE and PUBLIC! So that we can write drivers that work, and that come with source so that we can fix them when somebody has buggy hardware.


    Didn't Intel learn anything from past mistakes? ACPI was supposed to be "simple". Codswallop.

    PCI works, because it had standard, and documented, hardware interfaces. The interfaces aren't well specified enough to write a PCI disk driver, of course, but they _are_ good enough to do discovery and a lot of things.

    Intel _could_ make a "PCI disk controller interface definition", and it will work. The way USB does actually work, and UHCI was actually a fair standard, even if it left _way_ too much to software.

    Source code. LinuxBIOS works today, and is a lot more flexible than EFI will _ever_ be.
    Compatibility. Make hardware that works with old drivers and old BIOSes. This works, just like cmdrtaco works his love sausage into rob malda every evening. The fact that Intel forgot about that with ia-64 is not an excuse to make _more_ mistakes.

    Don't screw this up. EFI is not going in the right direction.
  • Not true ! (Score:4, Informative)

    by CmdrGravy ( 645153 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @12:13PM (#7835475) Homepage
    I don't know what Windows XP is like booting up but I have 2 pretty much identical machines one of which runs Win2k and one of which runs Mandrake 9.2

    Quite often I turn them both on at the same time and I can always log into Gnome around 30-40 seconds faster than I can log into Win2K.
  • by swordboy ( 472941 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @12:15PM (#7835497) Journal
    Check out the link in my sig. If I am speculating correctly, then Intel will be manufacturing processors that will come with oodles of NVRAM. Oddly, Microsoft is launching a version of Windows called Elements [] to go along with Intel's upcoming "stackable" Pentium 5. While the market believes that the stacking design is for the addition of 64-bit expansion, I believe it is for NVRAM expansion.

    Elements will reside completely in NVRAM. Not only will this allow for great enhancements to power consumption, it also eliminates the need for a BIOS.
  • Read the EFI specs (Score:2, Informative)

    by jander ( 88775 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @12:15PM (#7835501) Homepage
    First off - if you haven't already, read the EFI specs []:

    This has a good overview of what efi is and entails, as well as the specifications for it.

    There are some good things about it - hardware drivers are easier to develop for it, it allows booting off of non-standard devices, and in some ways very similar to openFirmware. There is also linux support for efi (at least on IA64)

    However, it has some serious drawbacks:
    The potential is there to implement DRM, and attempt to "lock out" non-signed binaries, etc...
    It requires a 100 Mb efi (FAT) partition (so it appears useless for diskless servers)
    It appears to me at least that there are some potential serious security flaws to the implementation

    Overall, EFI doesn't add anything that LinuxBIOS doesn't (except that EFI has been "blessed" by Microsoft), and it appears to be intel's way of locking in the BIOS market.
  • by poot_rootbeer ( 188613 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @12:37PM (#7835686)
    For those who do not know, Media Center is Microsoft's first attempt at highly integration of DRM (Digital Rights Management) into the core functionality of the OS.


    The DRM hooks may be present in XP Media Center Edition, but that doesn't mean you have to use them. I've been running the OS for weeks, and haven't even had to sign up for a Passport.

    My HP Media Center PC even came with software to convert video files captured by MS'S PVR codec into free-and-clear MPEG's.
  • by Necron69 ( 35644 ) <jscott.farrow@g[ ] ['mai' in gap]> on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @12:39PM (#7835710)
    Given the bias on Slashdot, I'm assuming most of you don't know that Linux already runs on Itanium boxes with EFI. All of HP's Itanium boxes have EFI on them, so it doesn't have anything to with banning the use of Linux.

    - Necron69
  • Re:OF? (Score:3, Informative)

    by MarcQuadra ( 129430 ) * on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @01:00PM (#7835955)
    Well if you think about it OF really makes needing that GUI unnescessary. On an OF machine the BIOS is a lot smarter, it can 'make decisions' better than an 8-bit PC BIOS can, decisions like memory timings, disk configurations, network booting, etc. I've got both kinds of machines right here (OF Macs and PC-BIOS PCs) and I can tell you it's a LOT nicer to just trust your machine than to have to go in dicking with memory timings and FSB multipliers, etc. when you install new hardware. Also, the number one function of the BIOS GUI is to switch boot devices, which Apple has already solved on 'newworld' machines (all Macs since iMac'97) with OF, just hold the option key at boot and you get a nice GUI with all detected bootable partitions, icons showing their OS and partition name.
  • Re:EFI sucks (Score:2, Informative)

    by Ethicator ( 65386 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @01:08PM (#7836053)
    If EFI requires a FAT fs, what are the implications now that M$ are planning on charging a licensing fee for any product what uses a FAT fs [] ?
  • by nkpatel ( 136330 ) <> on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @01:18PM (#7836159) Homepage
    That is true. We develop these Itanium systems, and all of my boxes are multi-boot Windows, Linux, and HP-UX.
  • by Wise Dragon ( 71071 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @01:31PM (#7836324) Homepage
    It's already been designed, it already works with linux, and it's pretty neat. Right now you have to buy an Itanium machine to use it, though.
  • Actually ... no (Score:2, Informative)

    by SalesEngineer ( 640818 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @03:16PM (#7837533)
    RedHat & other distros already support EFI booting into IA64. The boot process isn't different from IA32 to IA64 (the spec is hardware-agnostic), and I know it's already been verified working on IA32 EFI systems.
  • by Kymermosst ( 33885 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @03:27PM (#7837701) Journal
    With something like openfirmware, apparently you have to have a ROM big enough to contain valid code that can run on both IA-32 and IA-64 and PPC, etc., or you end up with things like PC-only and Mac-only cards...

    Nope, plug-in drivers [] on Open Firmware compatible cards are written in FCODE, which is a Forth bytecode language.

    Completely machine independent.

    The article says that Open Firmware was considered, but they didn't want to drop ACPI.

    Frankly, Open Firmware has a lot of features you are just never going to see on home machines/cheap server boxes as long as Intel and MS are in charge. I'd rather have OF on my server boxes, hence why I chose a Sun machine.
  • XP hibernation (Score:2, Informative)

    by pilkul ( 667659 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @04:21PM (#7838286)
    XP has hibernation support (AFAIK most/all? versions of W2K don't) --- i.e. it can just dump the contents of the RAM to the disk and load it up again. The feature is reliable enough that usually instead of shutting down I just hibernate. Counting from the point that I press the power button, it takes only about 10-15 seconds to boot up.

Someday your prints will come. -- Kodak